Alex van Wijngaarden, on-scene commander for the national response team, said oil could come ashore around midnight Sunday.
“While reports at this stage indicate there has not been a significant release of oil, with the Rena in its current fragile state, a further release is likely,” he said. “While it is unknown at this stage exactly how much oil may be released, teams have been mobilized and will be ready to respond to anything that may come ashore.”
The containers, meanwhile, spilled goods including timber and bags of milk powder. The debris could begin washing ashore later Sunday.
Some containers have been sighted floating up to 32 kilometers northwest of the stricken ship, said Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns.
“They have been caught in a strong coastal current” fuelled by the storm, he said.
The Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef 22 kilometers from Tauranga Harbor on North Island on Oct. 5. Salvage crews have removed more than 1,100 tons of oil from the stricken vessel but about 385 tons remain on board – about the same amount that has already leaked into the sea.
The crews have plucked 389 of the ship’s 1,370 loaded cargo containers from its decks since it ran aground, while some 98 have been washed over board in the past three months.
At least 23 containers were lost from the ship when it broke apart, and more were likely to be lost, said David Billington, a salvage unit manager for Maritime New Zealand.
One eyewitness, Warwick Roberts, said the rear section was sliding along the reef.
The “stern has reared up and center section is not visible. Large breaking waves observed on bow,” he told the New Zealand Herald website.
A three-kilometer no-go zone is in force around the wreck.
Investigations by the Associated Press last month revealed that Australian authorities impounded the vessel, but released it the next day after Liberian maritime authorities intervened, essentially saying the ship was safe to sail and the problems could be fixed later. The Rena, like many ships, is registered in Liberia.
Some 10 weeks later, the Rena ran full-steam into a well-marked reef off the coast of New Zealand. It’s not clear whether the previously identified problems played any role.
The captain and Rena’s navigating officer face criminal charges of operating a ship in a dangerous or risky manner, polluting the environment and altering the ship’s documents after the crash.
Intellpuke: You can read this Associated Press article in context here: www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/grounded-cargo-ship-cracks-open-raising-fear-of-new-zealand-oil-spill/article2295122/